...Livni and Gal-on’s condemnation is not only selective, but also instructive. Gal-on criticized Ya'alon for “not believing in peace,” and Livni claimed that “our responsibility is to change reality.” Galon and Livni did not address the merit (or lack thereof) of Ya'alon’s assessment. They castigated him for lacking “belief” in peace and for facing reality rather than “changing” it.
19 March '14..
Some Israeli politicians have a selective and instructive way of reacting to the latest public declarations on the tortuous negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA).
On March 6, PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas declared that any deal with Israel would be submitted to a referendum among all Palestinians around the world, explaining that he would not waive the “right” of 5 million Palestinians to become citizens of Israel. Abbas made it clear that he only has a right to waive his own “right of return,” (to Israel) but certainly not that of his children and grandchildren, and that Palestinian “refugees” (i.e. the descendants of the actual refugees of 1948) will be entitled to financial reparation on top of their “right” to become Israeli citizens.
As for the referendum among the Palestinians “from Canada to Japan,” Abbas did not get into the details of the logistics that such an unprecedented worldwide consultation would entail. Besides logistics, however, Abbas’ suggested referendum begs disbelief. He does not have any say on the Gaza Strip, which is controlled by Hamas. Since being elected PA Chairman in 2005, Abbas has refused to hold new elections. One may wonder why a man who has systematically ignored the will of his constituents for the past nine years is suddenly eager to hear their opinion. And since Abbas just “promised” 5 million Palestinians that they will be entitled both to become Israeli citizens and to receive financial compensation, why should they approve, in a hypothetical referendum, a deal that will obviously not include such fantasies?
If Abbas actually believes what he says, then he is obviously not a man with whom Israel can make peace. If he is just being provocative and obnoxious, then he is not trustworthy. So Israel’s Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon expressed a perfectly reasonable opinion when he declared on March 15 that Abbas is no partner for a genuine peace deal.
Yet chief negotiator Tzipi Livni and Member of Knesset Zehava Gal-on (who chairs the left-wing “Meretz” party) expressed outrage at Ya'alon for drawing conclusions from Abbas’ statements, but not at Abbas for making those statements in the first place. Nor did Livni and Gal-on have anything to say about the fact that, on March 12, senior PA official Abbas Zaki declared on Palestinian television: “Allah will gather the Israelis so that we can kill them.”
Livni and Gal-on’s condemnation is not only selective, but also instructive. Gal-on criticized Ya'alon for “not believing in peace,” and Livni claimed that “our responsibility is to change reality.” Galon and Livni did not address the merit (or lack thereof) of Ya'alon’s assessment. They castigated him for lacking “belief” in peace and for facing reality rather than “changing” it.
The reason Ya'alon incurs the ire of the Israeli left is that he is an “apostate.” A son of Israel’s secular and socialist founding generation, Ya'alon is a kibbutz member who excelled in the army and who eventually became chief of staff. Like other secular and Ashkenazi generals who emerged from the Labor movement, Ya'alon could have become a poster boy of the Labor Party. When the Oslo Agreement was signed in 1993, he truly and sincerely hoped for their success. But as head of the IDF’s intelligence unit, he became aware of the extent of Yasser Arafat’s doublespeak, incitement, and illegal armament. Realizing that the “peace process” was a sham, Ya'alon broke ranks with the left.
Ya'alon is not the only IDF veteran who refuses to follow the herd. Earlier this week, he attended the funeral of Meir Har-Zion, a war hero once described by Moshe Dayan as “the best soldier ever to emerge from the IDF.” Together with Ariel Sharon, Har-Zion founded the “Unit 101” commando and, like Sharon, he became a farmer upon retiring from the army. But when Sharon announced and implemented his 2005 “disengagement plan" from Gaza, Har-Zion publicly spoke out against his former commander. Taking a stance against disengagement cost Har-Zion his friendship with Sharon. It cost Ya'alon his job as army chief of staff.
Ya'alon is a political realist. True, reality can always be said to be in the eye of the beholder, but being pessimistic about human nature and skeptical about man’s ability to change reality is precisely what thinkers like Hobbes and Machiavelli meant by “realism.” By contrast, Rousseau and Kant’s faith in human goodness and in man’s ability to subjugate reality is generally what is understood by “idealism.”
Gal-on and Livni clearly identify with the latter school of thought. That is perfectly legitimate, but accusing political rivals of lacking faith is reminiscent of the rhetoric of “revolutionary” regimes.
Livni and Gal-on would be well advised to engage in debate rather than in inquisition. It is for them to justify their optimism. After all, no Middle East observer has ever lost money by betting on pessimism.
Emmanuel Navon heads the Political Science and Communication Department at the Jerusalem Orthodox College and teaches International Relations at Tel-Aviv University and the Herzliya Interdisciplinary Center. He is a Senior Fellow at the Kohelet Policy Forum.